I watch my sister fiddle with an expensive camera between complaints about the complexity of professional-level videographer’s gear. It’s a nuisance for her, I’m sure, and she wants to get a good grade in a college class in between working three jobs and figuring out how she’s going to get to New York City for her third internship. For today, though, her main worry involves getting some decent footage in a dingy church basement office where I hold a part-time job as secretary. She wouldn’t even be doing this much if I wasn’t serious about going to Mars. Finally, she has it focused just right and starts recording.
“I am Heidi Hecht, a 32-year-old Mars One candidate.”
I’m not entirely sure how this student documentary is going to turn out. I haven’t yet seen the finished product even though, two months after that day in the dingy office, she told me that the teacher gave her an A on it. However, it’s her show and she asks some good questions.
“Was becoming an inspiration for people like you a major reason that you applied to Mars One?”
“Not much of one. At least, it was one of several reasons.”
I’m thinking back to when I first heard about Mars One and its ambitious plan to send people on a one-way trip to Mars. It seems as crazy now as Kennedy’s desire to land people on the Moon did in 1961. It looked like a pipe dream when NASA had just sent Alan Shepard to the edge of space, and colonizing Mars when we haven’t sent much more than a few robots sounds equally improbable to a lot of people. However, being an American used to living in the space age, I figured that lofty goals like landing men on the Moon or sending settlers to Mars aren’t too out of line if you have clever and determined people working on them. I wonder if anyone remembers one night in July 1969 when the whole world seemed to stop and watch fuzzy images of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder.
Can Mars One actually do it? Sure it can, if it can just find the funding. They just announced that they’ve closed a deal with the production company behind reality shows like Big Brother and documentaries like PBS’ Hawking. This is one reason I support private space ventures even if it means volunteering to strap myself into that rocket. Being a private organization, Mars One does not have to beg for tax dollars from an American public that started losing interest in space after the Apollo moon landings. It just has to get the attention of a wide enough audience to bring in the advertising dollars. I will admit that I’m not too thrilled at the idea of selling beauty products, but I’ll put up with it if it gets me to Mars.
Am I the hero that my sister seemed to want for her documentary? Probably not. My life is so boring that my biggest fear in all this is that my involvement might be misinterpreted as an attempt to escape, in the words of John Gillespie Magee, Jr., “the surly bonds of Earth” without committing suicide. Mars One isn’t an escape. It’s an opportunity for people like me who have watched space shuttle launches on TV and thought that we should be able to do more than jink around in low Earth orbit in the forty years since the last lunar landing. It takes thirty seconds to sign a petition supporting better funding for NASA. It will take a lifetime to make the point that people are actually serious about wanting to live on Mars and, already, many candidates have dropped out when they started having second thoughts. I’m not one of the drop outs, not because I am particularly brave or heroic or a brash fighter jock like so many of the early astronauts, but because I would not have plunked down a $38 application fee if I did not see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be jumped on.
It would be interesting to know what a future archaeologist would think if he were to uncover our Martian settlement in a thousand years. Will he find a diary of one of the original Martian settlers? Would it contain a fascinating account that would fill in the blanks of the ultimate fate of the settlement? Will the future archaeologist be a descendant of the original Mars One colonists who succeeded beyond all reasonable expectations, or someone from Earth who wants to find out why the settlement effort failed? It’s a story that has yet to be written and I hope to be one of those who helped to write it.
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